One of the most raved about films of this decade, the French horror film High Tension has just as many haters as it does lovers and generates huge arguments. And I’m not talking about the fact that it portrays a butch lesbian as a psychotic killer more evil than Sharon Stone ever was in Basic Instinct. Read on if you’ve already seen the movie. If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother, because I just ruined it for you – as the headline warned.
The real issue haters have with this film is that they consider the whole film one big plot hole because the killer, Marie, is always in two places at once (for instance, how, the haters argue, can Marie be in the closet watching Alexia’s mother being murdered when Marie IS the killer? Or how can she be chasing the killer’s truck in her car if she IS the killer?). Fans of the film have spent half a decade pointing out to these people that the movie’s story is being told by Marie, who is describing to the authorities what she believes, in her delusional mind, happened.
Marie lusts after her straight friend Alexia, whom she can never have, so in her mind, she envisions the kidnapper of Alexia and murderer of Alexia’s family as being a male, the ultimate symbol of the one thing that prevents Alexia from loving her back. Not only is he a male, he’s the most vile version of the heterosexual male—a corpulent, beady-eyed, bad skinned and greasy haired molester type. She transfers her barbaric acts onto the persona of the ultimate threat to a woman’s existence: a heterosexual pervert who will go as far as beheading a woman and then using the head to get some head…
But even those haters who understand that the story is being recounted by Marie from her deranged perspective still have issues. Many feel cheated because they were not given a chance—subtle clues—to figure out the actual twist of the film! Why would you want to be able to guess the twist? That would take away from the very entertainment of the film, the very plot device that sets the movie apart from all the generic slashers. This isn’t a whodunit, it’s a horror film! Haters tend to claim that the director/writer took an easy out to give us a twist ending, slapping it on as an afterthought to make the film different than every other slasher film out there. I find it hard to believe that any horror lover could sit through an entire roller coaster ride of a horror film and then turn around and hate it simply because of a twist ending that DOES make it stand out from other films in the genre. I also don’t believe the writer wrote a slasher script and THEN decided he needed some sort of a twist ending…the premise of the script was most assuredly written around the preconceived twist. And I’m not sure what haters of this film want instead. Without the twist ending, the film would simply be about a perverted old white man who slaughters a family and then kidnappers their daughter to be his sex slave! That would be beyond predictable…that would be a straightforward and pointless movie.
The biggest plot hole haters complain about is that if Marie is telling the story, why does she describe the cops at the gas station mini-mart watching the security tape and seeing her kill the cashier? Giving haters the benefit of the doubt on this one, and not remembering being bothered by such a plot hole since it’s been years since I’ve seen the film, I just rewatched it to witness the huge plot hole for myself. Instead, I witnessed a completely logical denouement. The moment when the police see the actual killer on the tape is the moment when we, the viewers, are solicited the big reveal. The narrative at this point is taken away from Marie so that we can learn the truth. From this moment on, we do not see Marie and the killer on screen at the same time. Instead, we get to see the MERGING of the two characters as one. As Marie chases Alexia through the woods, she is presented interchangeably as Marie and the male killer so that we the viewers understand that Marie and the male killer are one and the same. By the time she kisses Alexia on the road, she is absolutely Marie.
The transformation is complete. The male killer doesn’t exist. He was Marie the whole time. When we cut back to the police station, it is not to find Marie concluding her story because the narrative is no longer hers. Instead, we see Alexia standing behind a one way mirror looking at Marie, who is ranting about “him” trying to keep them apart. We are now in the real world, not in Marie’s head, and are getting to see her divided mind for what it really is.
It’s ironic that all the complaining haters who felt their intelligence was insulted because they weren’t able to figure out the twist weren’t smart enough to recognize the handing off of the narrative as a fresh way to deliver a “killer” ending. The generic and cliché way to have presented viewers with the exposition would have been for Marie to have finished her story from her perspective—to the point where it would be her getting stabbed by the killer, not by Alexia. Only then would the cops see the security tape from the mini-mart, the light bulb moment when they understand why so much of Marie’s story doesn’t add up. We’d then be given a laundry list of the cops’ dead-end clues in flashbacks, like why they did not find an extra car in the woods even though Marie said she was following the killer’s truck. There would be a conversation about how Alexia’s account of the events checks out (obviously since Alexia’s still alive, she’d have to have told her side of the story as to why she stabbed Marie).
The film would then end with a Psycho-esque shot of multiple-personality Marie in a straitjacket, sitting propped against a white padded cell wall, staring blankly yet maniacally into the camera as it pans closer and closer to her face, until finally, a scream sound effect bursts forth and Marie’s face is replaced with a flash of the face of her male killer personality, tying up the film perfectly with a Hollywood horror movie ending bow. Personally, I would think that horror lovers would want so much more than that.